Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town. The following interview about the Aosta Valley was originally published in my Switzerland guide.
First, tell us about you.
I’m Magdorys Velasquez. Originally from Venezuela, I have lived in the Aosta Valley since 1990. I am a homemaker and in my spare time I like to do manual things with wood or with fabric. When spring comes, I like walking.
If someone is visiting the Aosta Valley for the first time, what do you recommend they see or do?
The Aosta Valley is a mountainous area and there are many things to do, such as going to see Mont Blanc, which is the highest mountain in Europe. In winter, you can ski or hike with snow shoes. In spring, summer, and autumn, explore the lakes and mountain refuges. If you’re brave enough, you can do some mountain biking. And you can visit Aosta, a small Roman town
What neighborhoods or parts of town are best to stay in?
Courmayuer, Saint Vincent, Aosta, and La Thuile are the most prestigious locations (and the most expensive), but I recommend, instead, going to Morgex, La Salle, Valgrisenche Rhêmes Valley, and Val di Cogne (which are less expensive and also lovely).
Let’s talk about day trips…what nearby places should everyone make sure to visit?
From here to La Salle, there are: Val Veny, Val Ferret, Arpy Lake, Bonatti Refuge, and Refuge Bertone. From June to September, there are walks with the priest of each locality, feasts of patron saints, etc., but it all depends when you come.
Tell us about the local dishes. What should people try here?
The specialties of Aosta are fontina cheese fondue and dumplings, Aosta Valley ribs, polenta (porridge with cheese), soupe valpellineintze (bread, cabbage, fontina cheese, and broth), wild game, chamois and ibex stew, trout, dried meat of chamois carbonade (meat sauce), and panna cotta with blueberries (for dessert). Genepy (traditional liquor) is characteristic of the valley.
What is the best way to meet locals and make friends?
As in most places, you can always meet people at bars. Though, here in the valley, people come, above all, for sport, to live a healthy life, and to get outdoors, so they tend to go to bed early.
Why should people make sure to visit the Aosta Valley?
The spectacular Mont Blanc range. The beauty of being in the heart of the highest wine-producing area of Europe, wandering through the vineyards, villages, and streets. Bordered by Switzerland and France. And for the many Roman ruins in Aosta (which gave it the title of “Rome of the Alps”).
What is the best place to go take beautiful photos here?
The higher you climb into the mountains, the more stunning the scenery. There are so many places.
Anything else you want us to know?
Crossing the three countries of Mont Blanc—Italy, France, and Switzerland—on foot is a unique and unforgettable experience. The Tour du Mont Blanc is a multi-day trek (7/8 days) between cliffs, looming glaciers, pastures, and grasslands. Along the 170-kilometer route, there is a whole world to discover. In Italian territory, the undisputed protagonists are the Val Veny and Val Ferret.
The Valle d’Aosta is also interesting for the presence of some ancient buildings, castles, and fortifications full of charm and character. In particular, I must mention the Fenis Castle, dating back to 1200 A.D.; the Castle of Verres, located in the Val d’Ayas and built around the thirteenth century; Castello di Savoia, connected with a large nineteenth century villa; the Bard Castle, built in the 1800s at the behest of the Savoy family; and the Issogne Castle, built during the twelfth century on the ruins of an ancient building of Roman origin.